Cottonseed research focuses on shrimp

Glandless cotton stands in a research plot at NMSU's Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center before harvest. NMSU researchers are looking for new ways to use the seed of glandless cotton plants. (Courtesy of NMSU)
Glandless cotton stands in a research plot at NMSU’s Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center before harvest. NMSU researchers are looking for new ways to use the seed of glandless cotton plants. (Courtesy of NMSU)

New Mexico State University researchers are working to develop innovative new products using glandless cottonseed to increase profitability of the cotton plant, going beyond the traditional uses of fabric and livestock feeds.

“When cotton is running 60, 70, maybe 80 cents a pound for the lint, and if you can add a buck a pound or $2 per pound for the seed, then we’ve significantly increased the value of cotton production,” said Tracey Carrillo, assistant director of NMSU campus farm operations. “I have a unique project working on cotton, and that project is to develop high value or added value to byproducts from cotton.”

Cotton is normally grown for the fiber for fabric, but researchers are taking the byproduct — the cottonseed, which is a significant part of the boll — and creating additional products from that.

Some of the products the university is exploring use the seed as a high protein source for human consumption and also as aquaculture feeds.

NMSU shrimp will soon be available for purchase in New Mexico from the New Mexico Shrimp Co., a student-run operation.  (Courtesy of NMSU)
NMSU shrimp will soon be available for purchase in New Mexico from the New Mexico Shrimp Co., a student-run operation. (Courtesy of NMSU)

“We have a product being developed now — it’s a blue cheese-black pepper salad topping,” Carrillo said. “You can just sprinkle the cottonseed that’s been flavored on your salad, and it adds a nutty flavor to the salad, kind of like a sunflower seed.”

The research that turns the most heads when mentioned, however, is the aquaculture feed program. NMSU is growing shrimp, and will be ready to begin selling them as head-on, whole shrimp in January, through a student-operated company called New Mexico Shrimp Co.

NMSU has been working closely with Cotton Inc., a national organization that supports the cotton industry, to brainstorm different possibilities for using the glandless, or gossypol-free, cottonseed. Gossypol is a natural toxin, found in most varieties of cotton that makes all of the plant’s tissue, including the seeds, inedible by humans and most animals. It acts as a natural defense mechanism, helping to limit damage from herbivores.

One of the ideas developed with Cotton Inc. being tested now is an aquaculture feed.

“Commercial aquaculture feeds contain fishmeal, so they’re not as sustainable as a plant-based protein, because they’re basically taking fish from the ocean and making a meal out of that, and then feeding it to another fish,” Carrillo said. “We chose shrimp because they’re several times more efficient at converting that protein to an edible product.”

Carrillo and his team started out raising Pacific white shrimp, a saltwater shrimp, and have studied different techniques to grow them in large indoor swimming pools, in a zero-exchange, heterotopic aquaculture system. The system reuses water for several shrimp crops, an important consideration for exploring aquaculture production in the desert.

Proceeds from the sales of the shrimp will go back into operations and research, student salaries and to help maintain the project as it goes forward.

Other glandless cottonseed products in various phases of development and marketing related to the project include snack foods and cottonseed oils, offered from Acala Farms (www.acala-farms.com) in flavors such as toasted cumin, fried shallot, fresh cilantro, hot habañero and jalapeño lime among others. Pure, unflavored cottonseed oil also is available.

The oils have a high smoke point and contain zero trans fat and zero cholesterol, so are great for frying, searing, sautéing, or for simply being used as a salad dressing.

Sodexo, NMSU’s campus dining partner, uses cottonseed oil in some of its campus fryers. When the oils are ready to be disposed of, Leyendecker employees use a machine to turn the oil into biodiesel, which is then used in vehicles at the campus farm and in campus catering operations.

“Maybe a little further down the line, as we improve the variety, and we have higher yielding varieties of this type of cotton, I think the seed could be more valuable than the lint,” Carrillo added.

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